Tinnitus, sometimes called “ghost sound”, is the perception of a sound without an external sound source. In other words, tinnitus is a sound heard by a person, but which does not come from his environment.
Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom. Its presence indicates that there is a disturbance somewhere in the auditory system. A multitude of disturbances can cause tinnitus, the main one being hearing loss. Hearing loss due to age, exposure to noise, ear infections and earwax are just a few examples of the causes that can create tinnitus. Tension in the neck and jaw, certain medications and metabolic problems can also cause tinnitus. Stress, fatigue and sometimes the consumption of certain foods can exacerbate tinnitus.
10 to 15% of the population lives with tinnitus. The majority of these people manage to ignore and forget about it. But 10-20% of those with tinnitus will find it disturbing. The disturbing tinnitus can interfere with concentration, sleep or other activities of daily life.
Tinnitus can take many forms. It may sound like hissing, buzzing, sizzling or ringing. It can be continuous, intermittent or pulsatile. It can be heard in one ear, both ears, in the center of the head or even sometimes outside of the head. Some people may notice a change in their tinnitus depending of the neck and jaw movements and tensions. Others may notice that their tinnitus increase with noise exposure, fatigue, stress, or even when taking certain foods or medications. In short, each tinnitus is unique, and only the person who experiences it can describe it. Indeed, no objective measurement allows us to measure a tinnitus for now.
The volume of a tinnitus is usually below 10 dBSL. However, the person experiencing it may feel that the volume is louder, especially when in a quiet environment. In calm situations, the tinnitus comes out more since no ambient sound can cover or temper it.
When a person experiences a disturbing tinnitus, it is recommended to consult an audiologist.
To begin with, the audiologist will try to identify the cause of the tinnitus with a detailed case history and a full hearing assessment. However, in almost 40% of cases, the cause of tinnitus remains unknown. As described previously, tinnitus is a symptom that can come from a multitude of more or less complex origins.
The audiologist will assess the tinnitus degree of disturbance and the person’s needs, and then will make appropriate intervention plan. Interventions and recommendations may include a counseling to demystify tinnitus, tinnitus management techniques (e.g., sound enrichment, hearing amplification, relaxation, etc.) and referral to other professionals (e.g., ENT or family doctor if the cause of the tinnitus seems medical, physiotherapist if the origin is muscular, psychologist if the tinnitus is very disturbing, etc.). The options vary according to the needs of each person.